The viper in the room


TWO RECENT Express articles have mentioned me in ways I find puzzling.

First, Kamal Persad assailed me for recommending in an Express letter last year that certain street names in Woodbrook be replaced by names of people relevant to Trinidad and Tobago.

The names whose replacement I proposed — Methuen, French, Gatacre, Colville etc — are all of British imperialists and racists who defeated the South Africans, black and white, in the bloody Second Boer War (1899-1902), who invented the concentration camp (a horror later to be enthusiastically embraced in World War Two by the Nazis, themselves imperialist, murderous and racist), and who had no connection whatsoever with Trinidad and Tobago.

Referring as well to the name change of Milner Hall on UWI’s Mona campus, Persad asked: “What are the real motives of Dumas (and UWI’s) Beckles, Copeland and Cobley? Do they represent a minority advocacy group? If so, is it part of an Afro-centric, anti-white campaign?”

Good Lord. For the record, I do not know the three UWI people, nor have I in any way ever collaborated with them. The proposition that opposing racism might itself be a form of racism is, however, an intriguing one.

I wonder what San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello makes of these insinuations? Several days before Persad’s article appeared, Regrello was reported as saying that Irving and Freeling Streets in his corporation should be renamed because of the crimes committed by those two British officials against the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Will Persad now ask whether Regrello, himself half-white, may also be a member of a “minority advocacy, Afro-centric, anti-white” cabal?

Persad then went on to talk about the Siegert family names in Woodbrook — Carlos, Alfredo, Ana etc — with which, given that family’s positive contribution to this country, I have absolutely no problem.

His proposal? “Please leave the names of (Woodbrook) streets and buildings as well as that of calypsonian Lord Kitchener alone.” (I hope he wasn’t hinting that Kitchener Street was named after Aldwyn Roberts.) “They are a record of our history which we cannot erase or destroy.” Our history? And if history is to be viewed merely as a compendium of facts, nothing more, perhaps I should look forward to seeing one day an Adolf Hitler Street in Berlin. Or in Tel Aviv.

Persad ended by asking “please… not (to) be Afro-centric.” He then presented several names, all of Indian-origin people (no Indo-centrism, of course), as suggestions to be considered for “new streets, buildings etc.” In my Express letter I had suggested possible street replacement names. My list was not as ethnically exclusive as his, but the very first name on it was Rudranath Capildeo. Did Persad not see that?

The second recent mention of my name was by Karen Nunez-Tesheira. She wrote on March 11: “(I)t comes as no surprise that Mr Reginald Dumas felt constrained to withdraw from further commentary on the Chief Justice issue, whatever his opinion, perhaps because like many of us he may suspect that in this call for the (CJ) to step down… ‘there is more in the mortar than the pestle.’” Ironically, the Sunday Newsday of the same day published remarks by me on the same CJ matter, though I have so far made no call for him to step down.

I have no idea why, out of the blue, Mrs Nunez-Tesheira attributed to me a constraint linked to a possible suspicion — shared by “many of us,” she said — that there is a subterranean agenda in the clamour for the CJ to go. What might such an agenda be?

Is it what I have been hearing, that there is an “Indian plot” to oust the black CJ and replace him with an “Indian” (Allan Mendonca conveniently disappears)? And that black people must stand firm behind the CJ and do everything in their power to thwart the “plot?”

In “evidence,” it is stated that the people who have been most vociferously calling for the CJ’s head are nearly all of Indian origin. So once more, whether it’s Woodbrook street names or a CJ under scrutiny, things are seen through our unhappily instinctive and distorting prism of race.

Martin Daly and I, neither of us of Indian origin, have invited the CJ to respond to certain allegations against him. We await a reply. I am in no way “constrained” from speaking my mind. I am concerned with the law, but also with ethics, and with the health and strength of our institutions, about which I’ve been writing for decades.

I do not play the race game (though it’s a familiar one), and what I finally decide on the CJ will be based firmly on principles as I understand them, not on innuendo or emotion.


"The viper in the room"

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